Image of the Week

 

Gaia's first black hole discovery: Gaia-BH1

 

Figure 1. Comparison of Gaia-BH1 (black) to known stellar mass black holes. Credits: El-Badry et al. MNRAS 2022.

 

As was already hinted at in one of the papers of the Gaia Collaboration "Gaia Data Release 3: Stellar multiplicity, a teaser for the hidden treasure", the Gaia mission is expected to find dark companions of stars, like dormant black holes or dormant neutron stars.

Since Gaia's data release 3 and more specifically the release of the multi-star catalogue, the community dived into the data, found a candidate dormant black hole in there, and immediately followed it up with other telescopes.

This led to the first confirmed discovery of a black hole with Gaia data. The black hole is referred to as Gaia BH1 and is also the nearest black hole ever found. It is located at 480pc from the Sun, which is 3 times closer than the next-closest black hole. What a nice surprise for Gaia to find its first black hole right in our Solar neighbourhood.

The black hole was discovered by looking carefully at the companion star position. The star itself is nothing out of the ordinary, it is a Sun-like star and a plain main-sequence star. But the wobble seen in its position, as observed with great accuracy by Gaia, points to the existence of a companion. The heavier the companion, the larger the wobbling seen. This time, the wobble was caused by a heavy dormant black hole, with a weight of about 10 Solar masses.

 

Animation: The observation of a star is affected when a companion is present. This animation shows first the combined sky-projected motion due to parallax and proper motion, and then the resulting motion when the photocentre movement due to a companion is added. Credits: ESA/Gaia/DPAC - CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO, acknowledgements: Johannes Sahlmann (RHEA Group for ESA) who made use of https://github.com/ManimCommunity/manim

 

Black holes can either be active or dormant. When active, they emit high-energy light. While dormant, they do not emit at all and are a lot harder to find. It's like looking for a black object against a black sky. It's still there but difficult to see. The main way to spot it is by observing its gravitational interaction with its neighbourhood. The sole reason this black hole could be found was due to Gaia's ability to see the position of the star (that is orbiting about it) with such a high precision. This position wobbles about when the star moves around the black hole.

This star was already identified to have a companion with Gaia's data release 3 and is part of Gaia's catalogue of over 800,000 multi-star systems. An international team of researchers immediately looked into this specific case after Gaia's data release 3 and organized follow-up observations around the world with 7 different spectrographs and telescopes: LAMOST, MagE, GMOS, ESI, XSHOOTER, FEROS and HIRES to obtain more detailed spectra of the source.

 

Figure 2. Overview of the radial velocities for Gaia-BH1 as obtained by the LAMOST survey and from follow-up observations with the MagE, GMOS, XSHOOTER, ESI, FEROS and HIRES spectrographs. Points with error bars are measurements, gray lines are drawn from the posterior when jointly fitting thse radial velocity spectra and the Gaia astrometric constraints. Credits: El-Badry et al. MNRAS 2022.

 

The black hole is actually quite special. It is different from all other known black holes, and its existence is difficult to explain with standard binary evolution models. This may indicate something important is  missing from our current knowledge of black hole formation and binary evolution models. Food for thought for theorists!

The fact that the star is very similar to the Sun is also quite special. It is different from the companions of most other known black holes (see the location of the newly found Gaia-BH1 with respect to the other known black holes as highlighted in Figure 1). If this system also contains planets, like a large fraction of solar-type stars do, it would be an even more interesting object for further studies!

Although it is the first object of the kind to be discovered, the implied occurence rate (it is after all 3 times closer than the next-nearest black hole) suggests these kinds of dormant black hole binaries are about 10 times as common as X-ray bright systems. They are just harder to find. Gaia's data release 4 is expected to reveal many more of these systems.

One of the main things the stellar physics and gravitational wave communities have been hoping Gaia will do is to find systems like this. There have been many papers forecasting what Gaia will find (Mashian, Loeb (2017); Breivik, Chatterjee, Larson (2017); Shao, Li (2019); Andrews, Breivik, Chatterjee (2019); Chawla, Chatterjee et al. (2022); Janssens, Shenar, et al. (2022)). In recent years, a lot of candidates were investigated which turned out to be false positives; this system is quite different from them, and truly unambiguous. After decades of searching for this kind of systems, Gaia is finding its first dormant black hole in our Galaxy and it is immediately a spectacularly interesting one as well.

The paper by El Badry, et al. describing this finding was accepted by MNRAS. Find more details as well in the press release by MPIA.

 

This video created by MPIA zooms into the Milky Way to the position of the stellar black hole “Gaia BH1”, currently the black hole closest to Earth. After arriving at the location, we see the orbit of a Sun-like star around Gaia BH1. Video Credits: T. Müller (MPIA), PanSTARRS DR1 (K. C. Chambers et al. 2016), ESA/Gaia/DPAC (CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)

 

Further reading:

 

Credits: Story written by Tineke Roegiers, in collaboration with Kareem El-Badry and Frédéric Arenou, and based on the results presented in El Badry, et al. MNRAS 2022

[Published: 4/11/2022]

Image of the Week Archive

2022

25/11: 100 months of Gaia data

23/11: The astonishment

09/11: Gamma-Ray Burst detection from Lagrange 2 point by Gaia

04/11: Gaia's first black hole discovery: Gaia BH1

26/10: Are Newton and Einstein in error after all?

21/10: Gaia ESA Archive goes live with third data release

06/10: Mapping the interstellar medium using the Gaia RVS spectra

26/09: Gaia on the hunt for dual quasars and gravitational lenses

23/09: Gaia's observation of relativistic deflection of light close to Jupiter

13/06: Gaia Data Release 3

10/06: MK classification of stars from BP/RP spectrophotometry across the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram

09/06: BP/RP low-resolution spectroscopy across the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram

27/05: Cepheids and their radial velocity curves

23/05: The Galaxy in your preferred colours

19/05: GaiaXPy 1.0.0 released, a tool for Gaia's BP/RP spectra users

11/05: Systemic proper motions of 73 galaxies in the Local group

28/03: Gaia query statistics

16/03: Gaia's first photo shooting of the James Webb Space Telescope

08/03: Gaia's women in science - coordination unit 8

25/02: Not only distances: what Gaia DR3 RR Lyrae stars will tell us about our Galaxy and beyond

11/02: Gaia's women in science

31/01: Astrometric orbit of the exoplanet-host star HD81040

12/01: The Local Bubble - source of our nearby stars

05/01: A Milky-Way relic of the formation of the Universe

2021

23/12: Signal-to-Noise ratio for Gaia DR3 BP/RP mean spectra

22/12: The 7 October 2021 stellar occultation by the Neptunian system

01/12: Observation of a long-predicted new type of binary star

24/09: Astrometric microlensing effect in the Gaia16aye event

22/09: the power of the third dimension - the discovery of a gigantic cavity in space

16/09: An alternative Gaia sky chart

25/08: Gaia Photometric Science Alerts and Gravitational Wave Triggers

09/07: How Gaia unveils what stars are made of

23/06: Interviews with CU3

27/04: HIP 70674 Orbital solution resulting from Gaia DR3 processing

30/03: First transiting exoplanet by Gaia

26/03: Apophis' Yarkovsky acceleration improved through stellar occultation

26/02: Matching observations to sources for Gaia DR4

2020

22/12: QSO emission lines in low-resolution BP/RP spectra

03/12: Gaia Early Data Release 3

29/10: Gaia EDR3 passbands

15/10: Star clusters are only the tip of the iceberg

04/09: Discovery of a year long superoutburst in a white dwarf binary

12/08: First calibrated XP spectra

22/07: Gaia and the size of the Solar System

16/07: Testing CDM and geometry-driven Milky Way rotation Curve Models

30/06: Gaia's impact on Solar system science

14/05: Machine-learning techniques reveal hundreds of open clusters in Gaia data

20/03: The chemical trace of Galactic stellar populations as seen by Gaia

09/01: Discovery of a new star cluster: Price-Whelan1

08/01: Largest ever seen gaseous structure in our Galaxy

2019
20/12: The lost stars of the Hyades
06/12: Do we see a dark-matter like effect in globular clusters?
12/11: Hypervelocity star ejected from a supermassive black hole
17/09: Instrument Development Award
08/08: 30th anniversary of Hipparcos
17/07: Whitehead Eclipse Avoidance Manoeuvre
28/06: Following up on Gaia Solar System Objects
19/06: News from the Gaia Archive
29/05: Spectroscopic variability of emission lines stars with Gaia
24/05: Evidence of new magnetic transitions in late-type stars
03/05: Atmospheric dynamics of AGB stars revealed by Gaia
25/04: Geographic contributions to DPAC
22/04: omega Centauri's lost stars
18/04: 53rd ESLAB symposium "the Gaia universe"
18/02: A river of stars
2018
21/12: Sonification of Gaia data
18/12: Gaia captures a rare FU Ori outburst
12/12: Changes in the DPAC Executive
26/11:New Very Low Mass dwarfs in Gaia data
19/11: Hypervelocity White Dwarfs in Gaia data
15/11: Hunting evolved carbon stars with Gaia RP spectra
13/11: Gaia catches the movement of the tiny galaxies surrounding the Milky Way
06/11: Secrets of the "wild duck" cluster revealed
12/10: 25 years since the initial GAIA proposal
09/10: 3rd Gaia DPAC Consortium Meeting
30/09: A new panoramic sky map of the Milky Way's Stellar Streams
25/09: Plausible home stars for interstellar object 'Oumuamua
11/09: Impressions from the IAU General Assembly
30/06: Asteroids in Gaia Data
14/06: Mapping and visualising Gaia DR2

25/04: In-depth stories on Gaia DR2

14/04: Gaia tops one trillion observations
16/03: Gaia DR2 Passbands
27/02: Triton observation campaign
11/02: Gaia Women In Science
29/01: Following-up on Gaia
2017
19/12: 4th launch anniversary
24/11: Gaia-GOSA service
27/10: German Gaia stamp in the making
19/10: Hertzsprung-russell diagram using Gaia DR1
05/10: Updated prediction to the Triton occultation campaign
04/10: 1:1 Gaia model arrives at ESAC
31/08: Close stellar encounters from the first Gaia data release
16/08: Preliminary view of the Gaia sky in colour
07/07: Chariklo stellar occultation follow-up
24/04: Gaia reveals the composition of asteroids
20/04: Extra-galactic observations with Gaia
10/04: How faint are the faintest Gaia stars?
24/03: Pulsating stars to study Galactic structures
09/02: Known exoplanetary transits in Gaia data
31/01: Successful second DPAC Consortium Meeting
2016
23/12: Interactive and statistical visualisation of Gaia DR1 with vaex
16/12: Standard uncertainties for the photometric data (in GDR1)
25/11: Signature of the rotation of the galactic bar uncovered
15/11: Successful first DR1 Workshop
27/10: Microlensing Follow-Up
21/10: Asteroid Occultation
16/09: First DR1 results
14/09: Pluto Stellar Occultation
15/06: Happy Birthday, DPAC!
10/06: 1000th run of the Initial Data Treatment system
04/05: Complementing Gaia observations of the densest sky regions
22/04: A window to Gaia - the focal plane
05/04: Hipparcos interactive data access tool
24/03: Gaia spots a sunspot
29/02: Gaia sees exploding stars next door
11/02: A new heart for the Gaia Object Generator
04/02: Searching for solar siblings with Gaia
28/01: Globular cluster colour-magnitude diagrams
21/01: Gaia resolving power estimated with Pluto and Charon
12/01: 100th First-Look Weekly Report
06/01: Gaia intersects a Perseid meteoroid
2015
18/12: Tales of two clusters retold by Gaia
11/11: Lunar transit temperature plots
06/11: Gaia's sensors scan a lunar transit
03/11: Celebrity comet spotted among Gaia's stars
09/10: The SB2 stars as seen by Gaia's RVS
02/10: The colour of Gaia's eyes
24/09: Estimating distances from parallaxes
18/09: Gaia orbit reconstruction
31/07: Asteroids all around
17/07: Gaia satellite and amateur astronomers spot one in a billion star
03/07: Counting stars with Gaia
01/07: Avionics Model test bench arrives at ESOC
28/05: Short period/faint magnitude Cepheids in the Large Magellanic Cloud
19/05: Visualising Gaia Photometric Science Alerts
09/04: Gaia honours Einstein by observing his cross
02/04: 1 April - First Look Scientists play practical joke
05/03: RR Lyrae stars in the Large Magellanic Cloud as seen by Gaia
26/02: First Gaia BP/RP deblended spectra
19/02: 13 months of GBOT Gaia observations
12/02: Added Value Interface Portal for Gaia
04/02: Gaia's potential for the discovery of circumbinary planets
26/01: DIBs in three hot stars as seen by Gaia's RVS
15/01: The Tycho-Gaia Astrometric Solution
06/01: Close encounters of the stellar kind
2014
12/12: Gaia detects microlensing event
05/12: Cat's Eye Nebula as seen by Gaia
01/12: BFOSC observation of Gaia at L2
24/11: Gaia spectra of six stars
13/11: Omega Centauri as seen by Gaia
02/10: RVS Data Processing
12/09: Gaia discovers first supernova
04/08: Gaia flag arrives at ESAC
29/07: Gaia handover
15/07: Eclipsing binaries
03/07: Asteroids at the "photo finish"
19/06: Calibration image III - Messier 51
05/06: First Gaia BP/RP and RVS spectra
02/06: Sky coverage of Gaia during commissioning
03/04: Gaia source detection
21/02: Sky-background false detections in the sky mapper
14/02: Gaia calibration images II
06/02: Gaia calibration image I
28/01: Gaia telescope light path
17/01: First star shines for Gaia
14/01: Radiation Campaign #4
06/01: Asteroid detection by Gaia
2013
17/12: Gaia in the gantry
12/12: The sky in G magnitude
05/12: Pre-launch release of spectrophotometric standard stars
28/11: From one to one billion pixels
21/11: The Hipparcos all-sky map
15/10: Gaia Sunshield Deployment Test
08/10: Initial Gaia Source List
17/09: CU1 Operations Workshop
11/09: Apsis
26/08: Gaia arrival in French Guiana
20/08: Gaia cartoons
11/07: Model Soyuz Fregat video
01/07: Acoustic Testing
21/06: SOVT
03/06: CU4 meeting #15
04/04: DPCC (CNES) 
26/03: Gaia artist impression 
11/02: Gaia payload testing  
04/01: Space flyby with Gaia-like data
2012
10/12: DPAC OR#2. Testing with Planck
05/11: Galaxy detection with Gaia
09/10: Plot of part of the GUMS-10 catalogue
23/07: "Gaia" meets at Gaia
29/06: The Sky as seen by Gaia
31/05: Panorama of BAM clean room
29/03: GREAT school results
12/03: Scanning-law movie
21/02: Astrometric microlensing and Gaia
03/02: BAM with PMTS
12/01: FPA with all the CCDs and WFSs
2011
14/12: Deployable sunshield
10/11: Earth Trojan search
21/10: First Soyuz liftoff from the French Guiana
20/09: Fast 2D image reconstruction algorithm
05/09: RVS OMA
10/08: 3D distribution of the Gaia catalogue
13/07: Dynamical Attitude Model
22/06: Gaia's view of open clusters
27/05: Accuracy of the stellar transverse velocity
13/05: Vibration test of BAM mirrors
18/04: L. Lindegren, Dr. Honoris Causa of the Observatory of Paris
19/01: Detectability of stars close to Jupiter
05/01: Delivery of the WFS flight models
2010
21/12: The 100th member of CU3
17/11: Nano-JASMINE and AGIS
27/10: Eclipsing binary light curves fitted with DPAC code
13/10: Gaia broad band photometry
28/09: Measuring stellar parameters and interstellar extinction
14/09: M1 mirror
27/08: Quest for the Sun's siblings
 
Please note: Entries from the period 2003-2010 are available in this PDF document.